Chapter One








Lucas Tompkins ran his tricorder over the open EPS grid on deck four, section twenty-nine beta.  The very EPS conduit that he had replaced last week, which seemed to be malfunctioning yet again.  And the tricorder yielded nothing new. 


“The job of a chief engineer is a never-ending task,” he said wearily to Lieutenant Kendall Johnson, the chief science officer who had humbly agreed to assist Tompkins on this all-important mission.


Johnson smiled and handed Tompkins a phase-inducer.  “See if you can re-align the interlinks with the primary EPS grid,” he suggested.


Tompkins grabbed the tool and carefully inspected it before waving it over the malfunctioning conduit.  After several moments of this tedious action, the conduit remained dormant, and Tompkins realized the futility of his efforts.  “What exactly does this section of the EPS grid supply power to?” he inquired.


“Among other things…my quarters,” said Johnson.  “While secondary systems claim to be adequate, I find my sonic shower to be performing at a rather unacceptable level.”


“Maybe it’s your sonic shower?”


Johnson frowned.  “Or maybe it’s the power grid.  Either way, something’s not right…”


Tompkins put his tool aside and grabbed Johnson’s shoulder.  “Well, promise me this—don’t stop taking showers simply because it’s not working.  You won’t be the only one suffering…”


Johnson expelled an exasperated sigh as he rolled his deep blue eyes into his head.  When suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder.


Kendall slowly turned around to see Commander Erin Keller’s beaming smile piercing his very existence.  And just as every other time he saw her, Kendall felt himself melt with an awkward joy as she greeted her fellow officers.  “Hey Kendall,” she said warmly before turning her attention to Tompkins.  “Lucas,” she said.  “I finished the astrometric scan you wanted.”


Tompkins snapped his tricorder shut.  “Thank you, Commander.  I’ll pick it up this afternoon.”


“Very well, then,” said Keller.  She stood over the two for several seconds and observed their inaction.  “Proceed,” she mused before continuing down the corridor toward the turbolift.


As she disappeared behind the doors, Johnson sighed and knocked his head into the wall repeatedly.  The action elicited nothing but a soft chuckle from Tompkins.  “She won’t bite you if you talk to her, you know.”


“Believe me, I would talk to her if I had the ability,” said Johnson.  “But whenever she’s around I’m at a total loss of words.  And the few words I do get out are well, never what I intend to say.”


Tompkins smiled as he waved yet another tool over the dead EPS conduit.  The device worked, and the conduit came to life.  “This is going to be a long day,” he mused as he reached for the hatch to cover the wall.




Erin Keller stood quietly in the turbolift as the doors parted, revealing the Starlight’s main bridge.  It was an impressive facility with science stations lining both walls.  To her immediate right was the tactical station, and to her left was operations.  Dead ahead, surrounded by a sleek metal railing was the illustrious Captain’s chair.  Beside it was the first officer’s chair, and mounted on the railing behind it, the mission ops station.   Several meters in front of it sat the helm.


Keller slowly stepped into the facility and eased her way into the operations station to her left, relieving the Ensign situated there before sitting down at the station.  Only moments later, Captain Greene burst from his ready room in his usual pleasant manor and stood before the crew.


“We’ve just been ordered to chart the Sineron Cluster,” he said excitedly.  Greene was an old man nearing the end of his career.  While he insisted retirement was out of the question, almost everyone knew his tour of duty was coming to an end, one way or another.  Still, he was highly energetic, and undoubtedly had several good years left in him.


Commander Harrison, the ship’s executive officer, and an eager successor to Greene, wearily folded his arms. Harrison was a young hot-shot who favored the more exciting missions which played pivotal roles in the course of human events.  Charting stellar phenomenon did not constitute that, but still, he was as loyal to Greene as anyone else. “That’s three weeks away at maximum warp,” he sighed.


Greene smiled.  “Not anymore.”


Harrison raised a brow.  “Oh, really?”


Greene slowly approached the Bolian at the helm, a young Ensign named Drayge.  He placed his hand on Drayge’s shoulder and said, “Starfleet has just authorized us to use our transwarp drive full time.”


Drayge nearly fell off his chair.  “It’s about time!” he exclaimed.  Drayge was one of the transwarp drive’s biggest proponents—as an avid space explorer a new technology enthusiast, he never turned down the chance to unlock the secrets of a new piece of technology.


The Captain touched his comm badge.  “Greene to Engineering.”


“Tompkins here.”


“Commander, bring the transwarp systems on line, and prepare to initiate.  We’re going for a little ride.”


“Yes, sir!” said Tompkins excitedly.  In his academy days, Tompkins helped bring the proposal to the Federation’s attention during its infancy, and continued to work with Starfleet Research and Development in the following years.  For him, this was the realized dream.


“Ensign,” said Harrison, his voice also teeming with excitement.  “Set course for the Sineron Cluster.”


Drayge turned to his superiors.  “With pleasure,” he said before turning back to comply with the order.  He pecked at the controls for a brief moment, and then said, “Course set.”


Greene slowly backed down into his chair. Knowing he was about to witness an historic moment, he inserted a dramatic pause before giving the anticipated order.  “…Engage.”


The engines hummed loudly for several seconds before the ship was thrust into transwarp.  The sudden change in velocity caught everyone, and thrust them back into their chairs until the inertial dampers could compensate.  By that time, however, nobody even noticed the pressure, as all eyes were locked on the view screen. 


At first, the stars streaked together like any other jump into warp, only this time, they seemed to be pulling a massive ball of energy with them.  In a matter of seconds, a vibrant flash of light enveloped the bridge, and the star field was replaced by the haunting green shades of transwarp soaring by at incredible speeds.


“We’ll arrive in two days,” said Drayge in awe.


Greene clasped his hands together in excitement.  “Incredible!  Absolutely marvelous!  The only bad thing is, we won’t have the three weeks to prepare for the mission.  We’ll have to get started right away.”  Greene turned to Commander Keller.  “Commander, I want you and Ensign Drayge to head up the efforts on this mission.”


“When should we get started?” she inquired.


“Right away.”




The astrometrics lab, otherwise known as stellar cartography, was possibly, the true heart of any deep-range exploration vessel, such as the Starlight.  It was in constant use, charting nebulae, mapping asteroid belts, and a plethora of other things.


Surrounding the massive control station in the center of the room was an even larger panoramic view screen.  The master control sat on a raised platform several meters away from the screen, and was enclosed by a sleek metal rail.  Lining the adjacent walls were various control stations adorning pictures of interstellar phenomenon and other spatial disturbances. 


With Ensign Drayge in close proximity, Commander Keller slowly walked up to the master control station and activated it.  Having performed these pre-mission surveys countless times, Keller had perfected the technique to the point where they could chat idly while gathering data.  “So, Neelar, how do you like it on the Starlight?”


The Bolian stared curiously at Keller upon hearing his first name in a command situation, but quickly dismissed the occurrence and answered the question.  “It’s different,” he decided.  “Nothing like the Academy.”


“That it is,” she agreed.  “Out here, there are no test simulations or second chances.  Only the hard reality that is life,” she mused. “Live it, and live it well, because it’s only going to happen once.”


Drayge stared at his display for a moment and absorbed the data before continuing the conversation.  Bolians have a tradition called tagana-rem.  It means, quite literally, ‘to live again.’  It’s the belief that one can relive certain moments from the afterlife—but only as an observer.”


Keller smiled.  “Sounds like fun,” she quipped as she pecked away at the controls.  “So, has anyone been giving you any problems?”


Drayge carefully recounted the crew before deciding, “No.  This crew seems to get along fairly well.”


“It does, for the most part,” agreed Keller.


“I have noticed some…hostility between you and Commander Harrison,” said Drayge slowly, testing the water to see if it was safe to tread.


Keller frowned.  “It’s no secret,” she sighed.  “The Commander and I have no affinity for one another.  You see, when I transferred to the Starlight almost two years ago, I was supposed to be the executive officer.  To make a long story short, one thing lead to another, Harrison got my job, and I got to play chief of operations.”


Drayge appeared a bit confused, but didn’t pursue the topic any further. “I see,” he mumbled instead.


“No, you don’t,” said Erin softly.  “But no one does.  It’s much more than you can possibly imagine.”


With that statement, Keller turned her full attention to the data and placed a large planetary system on the view screen.  “The Sineron Cluster,” said Keller.  “No one’s been here since 2373, a few months before the Dominion War.  It looks like the Federation planned on colonizing it.”


“More than twenty years have passed,” said Drayge.  “It seems they’ve abandoned their efforts.”


“Too bad,” said Keller.  “It doesn’t look like a bad place to live,” she noted as even more data presented itself before her.  So much, in fact, that it filled several screens.  It was going to be a long day…




Lunch wasn’t Commander Matthew Harrison’s favorite meal.  In fact, he rarely indulged in the mid-day feast.  But still, he enjoyed the spending the time allotted for lunch to pursue more social activities.  Today, he sat with Lieutenant Bator, a large, stoic Phobian who served as the Starlight’s tactical/security officer.


“I can’t help but wonder what my people ate for lunch,” said Bator as he stared at his chicken sandwich.  “For some reason, this question bothers me more most.”


Harrison shrugged.  “I wish I could tell you,” he said.  “For all we know, lunch didn’t exist in Phobian culture.”


Bator frowned.  “Don’t play games with me, Commander,” he grumbled.  “The mid-day meal exists in over three-fourths of the alien races known to the Federation.  The remaining fourth is made up of mostly primitive civilizations.”


“As I recall, the Romulans fall into that category.”


“Like I said, mostly primitive races.”


“You’d better not let the Captain hear that,” said Harrison.  “You know how he is…”


“I do.  And he won’t,” said Bator.  “And besides, if I’m the only remaining member of my species, and I do eat lunch, then my culture eats lunch…”


“They can’t all be dead,” Harrison protested.  “Others had to have escaped.”


Bator slowly nodded negatively.  “I’ve been searching for thirty-two years.  Nobody has even heard of the once great Phobian Republic.  I’m fairly certain there are no others.”


“Your ship came from the Delta Quadrant—some 70,000 light years away from here.   I’m sure there are a few people you’ve neglected to talk to.  And with our transwarp drive operational, the possibilities are endless,” said Harrison.  “Don’t give up hope yet.”


Bator considered the possibilities for a brief moment before allowing a hopeful smile to form on his face.  “Very well,” he decided.  “Hope wins, this time.”




Suddenly, streams of white energy interrupted the soaring green streaks of transwarp out the window as the comm system crackled with the Captain’s voice.


“This is the Captain to all hands.  Please return to your posts at once!”


Greene’s nervous call was only amplified by the sudden onset of a gentle rumbling throughout the ship.  Harrison cast a quizzical gaze in Bator’s direction and quickly rose from his chair. Bator dropped his sandwich and hastily followed Harrison to the bridge.




When they emerged onto the bridge, the first thing Harrison looked for was Captain Greene.  He was standing quietly behind Ensign Drayge at the helm, watching the transwarp conduit descent into chaos.


“What’s happening?” Harrison demanded as he came up alongside Greene.


“We’ve run into an area of extreme verteron radiation,” said Drayge.  “It’s preventing us from maintaining a stable transwarp conduit.”


The final shreds of the green conduit finally dissipated, and the Starlight’s first voyage into transwarp ended.  Now, a calm, tranquil star field slowly roamed across the view screen as the ship reentered normal space.  “What’s the source of the radiation?” asked Harrison.


“Unknown,” said Keller.  “The radiation seems to be hindering our sensors, as well.”


Greene expelled a long sigh of exasperation.  “At least tell me our location,” he demanded.


Drayge quickly accessed the helm.  “We’re about nine point eight light years from the Kilka Sector,” he said a moment later. 


Harrison slowly sat back in his seat and watched as Greene contemplated the situation.  The Captain stared at the view screen for several moments before making a decision.  But it wasn’t one that made much sense to Harrison.


“Magnify grid eleven-gamma,” he ordered.


Slowly, a box honed in upon the designated grid and brought it closer.  The stars streaked by until a tiny violet blob came into sight.  “The Alteran Expanse,” whispered Greene.  “Take us there, Ensign.”


The Bolian frowned.  “Sir?” he questioned.


“Let’s just say, I’ve got a hunch…”


Harrison gulped upon hearing that.  Greene was a capable leader, and, more often than not, his hunches proved to be trustworthy.  And if Greene was thinking that the source of the radiation was in that Expanse, then there was a good chance it was so…


That fact didn’t bother Harrison much at all.  It probably wouldn’t bother anyone.  But massive verteron eruptions don’t just happen without a cause—and that cause, whatever it may be, was reason enough for Harrison to be concerned…



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